Technology governance transformed as a tool had many areas in the delivery of public good in India even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The disease propelled a test of the digital mechanisms of response in a moment of crisis.
There have been, in essence, two main pillars of the use of digital technology in the pandemic monitoring, and delivery of public goods. Monitoring has been
made possible by the Aarogya Setu mobile app which has broken records of swift volume downloads of an app globally.
By assisting in the recording, enumeration, and location-tracking of COVID-19, Aarogya Setu has proved to be an invaluable tool in the fight against the pandemic-an example of the use of tech in governance which other countries have adopted.
The declaration that the data on the app would be stored only for a limited period has strengthened its security dimension.
The use of the JAM trinity (Jan Dhan bank account for the underprivileged-Aadhaar number Mobile telephony), which has been the cornerstone of the Prime Minister’s attempt to embrace technology in governance at a mass scale has also now' gone through its toughest test yet. The promise of easy identification and transfer of government benefits and funds has been tested against the need for rapid delivery during the pandemic.
Why the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) Trinity is so Powerful?
Introduced in the first term of this Government, the Jan Dhan scheme is proving to be a boon for millions of Indians seeking financial assistance during the ongoing countrywide COVID-19 lockdown.
Its strong interlinkage with the mobile linked Aadhaar scheme has facilitated swift transfer of money into bank accounts of beneficiaries without pilferage or corruption.
In the words of the Prime Minister, “This infrastructure has helped us tremendously in transferring money directly and immediately to the poor and needy, benefiting crores of families, during the COVID-19 situation.”
With the lockdown placing immense strain on the household budgets of several sections of society, the JAM trinity is acting as a safety net and helping millions who need immediate monetary aid.
Key benefits that highlight JAM as an imperative in the current times:
The JAM trinity has given a boost to the DBT programme and expanded its coverage from partial to ubiquitous. Aadhaar has facilitated legitimate databases while Jan-Dhan has offered bank accounts for all.
By eliminating the need for middlemen or conduits, JAM has helped minimise avenues of corruption, irregularities, wrong-doings and pilferages. It has also therefore, promoted the ease of doing business.
Given the need for physical distancing to curtail the spread of COVID-19. JAM is promoting online transactions among the beneficiaries, use of ATMs and payment cards instead of physical visits to the banks.
In the longer run, DBT schemes like JAM will make the rural population get acquainted with the concept of ‘saving’ thus contributing to the GDP of the country as a whole.
Digital Technology in Governance:
Since 2014, the government has been actively promoting the use of digital technology and establishing nationwide online platforms to boost policy implementation, essential operations and transparency. Platforms like Aarogya Setu and MyGov have been widely appreciated, endorsed and used by millions of Indians today.
As a result, critical COVID-19 related information dissemination, especially treatment protocols and healthcare services are being enabled largely online on digital multimedia.
Social media and online platforms have emerged during this crisis as key mediums that connect citizens with governments and allow all users to access the most credible information. These are truly powerful interfaces, amid the lockdown, that connect all people remotely and with minimal cost.
More importantly, technology is not only fueling healthcare and emergency medical services but also alleviating the pressures placed on the supply chains and public distribution networks. “Embracing digital payments is a prime example of adaptability.
Shop owners, big and small, should invest in digital tools that keep commerce connected, especially in times of crisis. However, this is not an easy thing to accomplish given India’s massive population, gigantic size, economic disparities of citizens and huge scale of operations. Consider this: Indian government directly supports nearly 330 million beneficiaries through public welfare schemes.
To address this, digital safeguards are playing a key role. Digitalisation has also helped in the monitoring and evaluation of schemes whilst plugging loopholes.
Relief and Reforms to Fight COVID-19:
A robust digital payments infrastructure has enabled cash transfer of Rs. 28,256 crore to more than 3 1 crore beneficiaries under the financial assistance scheme Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY).
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had last month announced Rs. 1.7 trillion financial assistance package, including cash transfer for the poor to help them battle the impact of the outbreak of COVID-19.
6.93 crore farmers were benefited through the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Santman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) to help farmers tide over the COVID-19 crisis. Under the scheme, the government transfers Rs.2,000 cash directly to the 18 farmers’ bank accounts through direct benefit transfer (DBT). “Rs. 13,855 crore have gone towards payment of first installment of PM-KISAN”.
19.86 crore women Jan Dhan account holders received Rs. 500 each in their account. The total disbursement under the head was 9,930 crore.
Rs. 1,400 crore disbursed to about 2.82 crore old age person, widow and disabled people under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP). Each beneficiary received an ex-gratia cash of Rs. 1,000 under the scheme.
2.16 crore construction workers received financial support from the Building and Construction Workers’ Fund managed by state governments. Under this Rs. 3,066 crore were given to beneficiaries.
The government is providing free LPG refills for the next three months to over 8.3 crore poor women under the Ujjawala scheme and Rs. 50 lakh insurance cover for healthcare workers.
The government has disbursed the first installment of Rs.15,841 crore to 7.92 crore farmers under the PM-KISAN scheme, since March 24, the day the lockdown was announced to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Global Recognition for the Efficacy of the JAM Platform:
The Center for Global Development2 has noted that the JAM trinity enables the Indian government to make payments “more effectively and inclusively.”
The center has created a JAM Index based on Findex data to rank countries on their use of ID systems, mobile phones, and financial accounts to effectively make government payments. India and Kenya are two top ranking countries in this index.
Cash-based social assistance can be delivered most efficiently and timely when the percentage of the population that has access to the three components—IDs, phones, and financial accounts—is high, systems are well-integrated, the existing system of benefits and transfers has wide coverage, and benefits are paid through financial accounts linked to the ID.
Not just the deployment but even the adoption of the digital technology as a counter to the Novel Coronavirus in India has been at record levels-the Aarogya Setu app, for instance, reached 100 million users. As the Prime Minister has said, “India has perhaps the largest such infrastructure in the world.
This infrastructure has helped us tremendously in transferring money directly and immediately to the poor and needy, benefiting crores of families, during the COVID-19 situation.